Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Jung on the Unconscious (God?)

Carl Jung. Civilization in Transition. Trans. R. F. C. Hull. 1970 (2nd edition).  Princeton University Press.  ISBN: 0691097623.

This interesting quote (pp. 358-359, paragraph 678) caught my attention as I was returning this book to the library:
The differentiated function [reason, guided thought] undoubtedly depends on man, on his diligence, patience, perseverance, his striving for power, and his native gifts. With the aid of these things he gets on in the world and "develops." From this he has learnt that development and progress depend on man's own endeavours, his will and ability.  But that is only one side of the picture. The other side shows man as he is and as he finds himself to be. Here he can alter nothing, because he is dependent on factors outside his control. Here he is not the doer, but a product that does not know how to change itself. He does not know how he came to be the unique individual that he is, and he has only the scantiest knowledge of himself. Until recently he even thought that his psyche consisted of what he knew of himself and was a product of the cerebral cortex. The discovery of unconscious psychic processes more than fifty years ago is still far from being common knowledge and its implications are still not recognized. Modern man still does not realize that he is entirely dependent on the cooperation of the unconscious, which can actually cut short the very next sentence he proposes to speak. He is unaware that he is continuously sustained by something, while all the time he regards himself exclusively as the doer. He depends on and is sustained by an entity he does not know, but of which he has intimations and 'occurred' to--or, as we can more fitly say, revealed themselves to--long-forgotten forbears in the grey dawn of history. Whence did they come? Obviously from the unconscious processes, from that so-called unconscious which still precedes consciousness in every new human life, as the mother precedes the child. The unconscious depicts itself in dreams and visions, as it always did, holding before us images which, unlike the fragmented functions of consciousness, emphasizes facts that relate to the unknown whole man, and only apparently to the function which interests us to the exclusion of all else. Although dreams usually speak the language of our particular specialism--canis panem somniat, piscator pisces--they refer to the whole, or at the very least to what man also is, namely the utterly dependent creature he finds himself to be.
Jung's unconscious here sounds very close to what many people seem to mean when they use the word God.  All of us are larger than we know, containing and embodying processes larger than ourselves that constitute us and enable the decisions we have to make: we are all conditioned and constrained by an alien unknown that is at once external and internal.  We cannot understand this constraining factor.  We can only listen to it, and react to it (well or badly).

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